Chatham grants two hardship waivers for dirt-road projects

CHATHAM–The Town Board has granted two hardship waivers for projects proposed on two different dirt roads.

The board has maintained a moratorium–now in place for more than two years–prohibiting new construction on properties served by unpaved town roads. The moratorium will remain in effect until the Town Board completes its review of proposed changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which could affect zoning regulations on structures along the 57.5 miles of dirt roads in the town.

But the moratorium does allow for exemptions based on hardships, and two applicants–Flying Deer Nature Center and Jeanne Laskin on Daly Road, and David and Erika Santoro on Dorland Road–applied for hardship waivers so that their projects can proceed to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Planning Board for review.

Last Thursday, April 6, the Town Board granted both applicants partial waivers. The applicants will need to come back to the Town Board for final approval on their projects if they receive approval from the ZBA and Planning Board. Town Supervisor Maria Lull and all four board members voted in favor of Daly Road application. Councilman John Wapner was the only board member who voted against the Dorland Road waiver.

The crowd at Thursday’s public hearings on the waivers was so large that people stood in the lobby of Town Hall. Many in the audience had come to support the waiver for Flying Deer, an outdoor educational program that has been offered a donated parcel of land on Daly Road to set up a permanent home. The organization currently rents land in New Lebanon for the school and summer camp programs.

Jeanne Laskin, who owns over a hundred acres on Daly Road, said that she and her husband, who is in poor health, have moved to California and hoped to sell the property. After it was on the market for about a year, she said, they decided donate the land to Flying Deer, which would keep it as one plot and run its programs there. But the moratorium had meant the land transfer to Flying Deer could not move forward. “This moratorium has put us in a difficult situation,” Ms. Laskin said. She said that if Flying Deer could not obtain a waiver and start the planning process, she would have to try again to sell the property. “This is the time to sell the house,” she said, referring to the time of year.

Several representatives from the Flying Deer board of directors and the two lawyers representing the group said they would lose this opportunity to receive the property if the waiver is not granted. Several parents of children who had gone to program voiced their support for the program moving to Chatham.

Rusty Vazac, who lives near the property, said at the meeting that he was “going to be very upset” if the board didn’t grant the waiver and the land was, as a result, subdivided into small parcels and sold to separate owners.

But some residents had concerns about waiving the moratorium before the zoning changes are finalized. Rick Werwaiss said that traffic on dirt road could become an issue in the new zoning law. “We don’t have the zoning in place to know that,” he told the board.

Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo asked the applicants whether, if they were granted a waiver, they would agree to abide by new zoning laws the Town Board adopts.

“It’s hard to say, not knowing what they are,” said Claiborne Walthall, a lawyer for the applicant.

During the public hearing for the Dorland Road property, the lawyer for those applicants, Mitchell Khosrova, said that nobody has seen a draft of the new zoning laws, which are now being worked on by a board committee with a consultant.

“If this process didn’t take two-and-a-half years, we wouldn’t be here,” he said, referring to the length of the moratorium.

The Dorland Road project would erect yurts to host weekend visitors for farming education classes. Mr. Khosrova said that the classes would be six months of the year for about 24 visitors. “This is minimal impact,” he said of the project.

He and the lawyers for the Flying Deer proposal stressed that both projects would still have to be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning boards. “We want to get the ball rolling,” Mr. Khosrova said.

“We have a long road ahead of us if you say yes,” said Mr. Walthall.

The board went into a closed-door session after a short workshop meeting. Then, after reading the motion for the partial waivers, board members discussed their reasons behind the decision for allowing the planning process to go forward followed by a final Town Board review. Councilman Henry Swartz said he was not in favor of the moratorium to begin with. He said that though he did not want the applicants to have to come back to the Town Board, at least this would get the process started.

Councilwoman Landra Haber said she would have granted a full waiver.

“We’re very close to finishing the code,” said Councilman Bob Balcom of the new town zoning laws.

There is a town ZBA meeting on April 27 at 7 p.m.

Also at the meeting:

● The board heard a water report from Steven Winkley, hydrogeologist and source water protection specialist from New York Rural Water Association, about the town Source Water Protection Plan. Mr. Winkley researched the town’s water sources and showed the board several maps of the area with different sources highlighted. “There are areas in Chatham with less-than-ideal water,” he said. East Chatham was one of those areas. He said that the report does have an impact on local zoning. Councilman Balcom said there would be a link to the report on the town’s website, www.chathamnewyork.us.

● The board approved an application from Chatham Brewing and USA Cycling to serve beer at the pavilion in Crellin Park during the Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Grinder non-competitive bike ride May 21. For more information about the race go to www.farmersdaughtergravelgrinder.com.

The next board meeting will be Thursday, April 20 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.

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